George W. Bush, who has staked his campaign on promises of returning civility to politics, got himself in trouble Monday when a whispered expletive about a New York Times reporter was caught on a live mike.
Later, the Republican presidential nominee said he regretted that what he called a private comment was overheard. But Dubya sidestepped a question about whether he would apologize to the journalist.
The Texas governor was unaware his microphone was live when he leaned over to his running mate, Dick Cheney, at a Labor Day rally and said, "There's Adam Clymer, major-league a------ from the New York Times."
Cheney replied, "Oh yeah, he is, big-time."
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Dubya's aside: plain-spoken or profane?
In accepting the Republican nomination in Philadelphia last month, Bush said: "I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."
But he told the rally in Naperville, Ill., a Chicago suburb, that it was "time to get some plain-spoken folks" in the nation's capital.
On arriving in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he will campaign Tuesday, he was asked about his remark about Clymer.
"I regret that a private comment I made to the vice-presidential candidate made it onto the public airwaves," he said. "I regret everybody heard what I said."
Separately, Cheney was asked by a television producer if "calling people names" was part of the campaign.
"I won't respond to it," Cheney said of the question. "The governor made a private comment to me."
Bush's spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, called the remark "a whispered aside to his running mate."
"It was not intended as a public comment," she said, adding, "It was a reference to a series of articles the governor felt was unfair."
In an interview with Bryant Gumbel Tuesday morning on the CBS News Early Show, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman said he knows Clymer, and that he "is not as described" by the Bush campaign.
However, Lieberman declined to make too much out of the gaffe, saying instead that public officials must constantly worry that their private comments can be broadcast worldwide.
For his part, Clymer said, "I'm disappointed in the governor's language."
Joseph Lelyveld, the Times' executive editor, said Clymer was a veteran political reporter: "His work is both fair and accurate. The Tims has never heard from the Bush campaign about Adam. If they have a complaint, they should convey it to us and we will review it as we do all serious complaints about our coverage."